Apple beats expectations on strong iPhone sales

Unboxing Apple Inc. iPhone 6s
An Apple Inc. iPhone 6s smartphone is arranged for a photograph in Hong Kong, China, on Friday, Sept. 25, 2015. The latest models, following last year's hugely popular design overhaul that added bigger screens, may not match the success of previous releases, according to analysts. Photographer: Xaume Olleros/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photograph by Xaume Olleros — Bloomberg via Getty Images

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 4.38.55 PMApple reported record fourth quarter earnings of $1.96 per share on revenue of $51.5 billion, driven—once again—by strong iPhone sales.

The results beat but did not blow past expectations. The stock immediately rose more than 2.7% in after-hours trading, but then drifted back.

Earnings grew an impressive 38% year over year and profits rose 31%, thanks to a gross margin of nearly 40%.

Apple’s guidance for Q1 2016 of revenues between $75.5 billion and $77.5 billions was also higher than expected.

Revenue in Greater China surged to $12.518 billion, up 99% from last year. iPhone sales in China were up 120% year over year, according to Luca Maestri, Apple’s CFO. Revenue from “Other Products,” which includes the Apple Watch, grew 105%.

“Fiscal 2015 was Apple’s most successful year ever, with revenue growing 28% to nearly $234 billion,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO.

“Apple’s record September quarter results drove earnings per share growth of 38% and operating cash flow of $13.5 billion,” said CFO Maestri. “We returned $17 billion to our investors during the quarter through share repurchases and dividends, and we have now completed over $143 billion of our $200 billion capital return program.”

By the numbers:

— Revenue: $51.5 billion, up 22.3%
— EPS $1.96, up 38%

— iPhone: 48.05 million, up 22.3%
— iPad: 9.883 million, down 19.8%
— Mac: 5.71 million, up 3.4%
— Services: $5.09 billion, up 10.3%
— Other products: $3.05 billion, up 104.6%
— Gross margin: 39.9%, up from 38%
— Revenue guidance: $75.5 to $77.5 billion
— GM guidance: 39% to 40%

— Cash and marketable securities: $205.7B, $187B outside the U.S.

Link: Apple press release.

Notes from the earnings call.

Tim Cook leads off with a list of the records broken. Says Watch sales grew sequentially, but offers no sales numbers. Apple made 15 acquisitions over the past year. Grew Mac sales while the rest of the market was shrinking. More than 13,000 Watch apps, including 1,300 native apps. He says he’s heard from people whose Watches literally saved their lives.

Talks about his 4-day visit to China. On track to reach goal of 40 stores by the middle of next year.

No numbers on new Apple TV sales. Claims Apple pay is growing rapidly month over month. Apple Pay deal with AMEX in Australia and Canada this year, more countries to come next year.

Nearly 40 million people are reading Apple News, he says.

$25 billion in enterprise revenue, up 40% year over year.

CFO Luca Maestri picks it up. If it weren’t for the rising dollar, he begins, growth would have been 800 basis points higher. App sales in China are up more than 120%, he says, mirroring iPhone sales. 463 stores, 195 outside the U.S. The company expect to build or replace 50 stores.

He explains, again, the terms of the new iPhone Upgrade Program, but offers no numbers. There is some deferred revenue involved, which will make it harder to track revenue numbers in the future.

Apple ended the quarter with $205.7 billion in cash and marketable securities, $187 billion outide U.S. Returned over $17 billion to investors.

Q&A: Asked about the “tough compare” next quarter, Tim Cook says if you factor out the effect of currency changes, growth would be even better. He is confident iPhone sales will grow next quarter. Mentions, without detail, Watch sales, Apple TV sales, App Store sales. “Everywhere I look I see great opportunity.”

Asked about the upgrade program—Apple’s and the carriers’—Cook says he thinks it does shorten the upgrade cycle, fuel the resale market and that they are already being offered in a dozen other countries around the world.

Asked about the March quarter, Cook says Apple doesn’t guide beyond one quarter. But he says the trends that are driving Apple’s growth are not single quarter trends.

A lot of talk about foreign exchanges. They’re losing me.

Asked about Apple’s efforts in the enterprise market, Cook says Apple has been changing iOS with every upgrade. Will continue to count on IBM and Cisco and other partners to bring the products to market. Mentions a huge indirect channel that many customers buy from (what’s that?). But he doesn’t plan to build an in-house sales force.

Asked about China, Cook says that without the iPhone, China’s smartphone market would have shrunk last quarter. That’s news to me. From what he sees in China—people in Apple stores, App Store sales, etc.—he doesn’t seen any economic slowdown in China. “So we’re very bullish on [China]… We’re investing for the decades ahead.”

Asked about selling to new and existing customers, Cook says that of those who bought a new iPhone and already had a smartphone, 30% came from Android. The biggest switcher rate ever. Says 69% of existing customers still haven’t upgraded to a 6 or 6S.

That’s a wrap.

Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter at @philiped. Read his Apple (AAPL) coverage at or subscribe via his RSS feed. You might also want to subscribe to Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the business of technology.

Subscribe to Well Adjusted, our newsletter full of simple strategies to work smarter and live better, from the Fortune Well team. Sign up today.

Read More

Artificial IntelligenceCryptocurrencyMetaverseCybersecurityTech Forward